A rush to judgment?


In this the “YouTube age”, videos and photos posted online and sent to media quickly grab attention – and often lead to a rush to judgment. But there are two sides to every story.

On Sunday, October 20, the operator of a Line 71 bus was unable to deploy the ramp onto a paved sidewalk in southeast Portland where a woman using a mobility device and her companion were waiting to board. A rider on board with a smartphone recorded the end of the three-minute interaction between the operator and the woman outside the bus. The rider sent the video to the Oregonian – and later to other media – and headlines blared “TriMet bus driver refuses service to woman in wheelchair”.

The other side of the story

An internal investigation determined that a parked car blocked the view of the stop for the operator and prevented the bus from safely serving the stop with the accessible ramp. It’s preferable to have 90 feet to maneuver a bus parallel to the curb, with 60 feet being the minimum distance. The auto was approximately 50 feet from the stop.

Complicating matters, the paved section of sidewalk ends right at the bus stop and a planting strip begins. Due to the parked car, the operator had to angle the bus in and the ramp deployed into the planting strip. The woman using the mobility device tried to go through the bark dust to the ramp but a small concrete slab prevented her from reaching it.

According to the amateur video, the intending rider told the operator to back up the bus. For safety reasons, operators must use extreme caution when backing up a bus and, whenever practical, they are trained to use a spotter to prevent a collision. Traffic behind the bus and the parked car would have made backing up the vehicle problematic and likely would not have led to a better repositioning of the ramp.

Watch TriMet video from the bus

Another riders’ view

Another woman and her son sitting in the priority seating right near the operator’s seat contacted TriMet to tell a different story than the initial one.

Cindy Kilcup’s son called TriMet after seeing the story on the evening news. He wanted the operator’s managers to know that the operator was being very professional as she tried to explain to the woman why she could not back up, and that the woman in the mobility device was being combative. His mother echoed that. “She did her best,” said Kilcup. “There was a car there. The woman was yelling at her to move the bus for her now. She (the driver) said, ‘Maam, I cannot do that’.” Kilcup said the operator apologized to every passenger as they exited the bus – both for the disruption and the outburst. “She handled herself very well,” said Kilcup. “Personally I wouldn’t have taken that verbal abuse,” she added.

Since there was no immediate solution, the operator notified Dispatch of the problem and continued in service to get other riders to their destinations. The rider and her companion went to a different bus stop a block away and boarded a bus approximately eight minutes later.

An undeveloped bus stop

This bus stop at southeast Bell and Sandview has just a concrete pad, which limits its accessibility. There is no curb cutout and no bus zone to prevent parking too close to the stop. TriMet is reviewing the bus stop to see what changes might be possible to better serve riders.

We apologize for the inconvenience to the rider in this incident. Our operators are trained professionals and they do their best to safely board passengers at every stop.